Archive for March 15th, 2004

Siena – my new love

After a long airplane voyage, I find myself in Italy – again. I have to take a bus from Milan’s Malpensa airport to the central train station. From there I have to take a train to Florence and then a train from Florence to Siena. To be honest, I really love taking the train in Italy. From the moment I step off the plane, not a single person speaks to me in English (apart from the customs man who has seen my American passport). People approach me asking directions in Italian. I manage to get everything I need (bus tickets, etc) without a word of English. I’m pretty proud of myself.

On the train from Milan to Florence, a few people ask me about some of the stops the train makes, and I am flattered that they think I would know. I exchange a few words from a very well-groomed Italian girl siptting across from me, and later she asks me if I’m from Florence! FLORENCE! What a compliment! This means I’m an honorary local, if you ask me (let’s just hope she doesn’t engage me in an intellectual debate)!

I notice how natural and familiar it feels to be on this train, a train I’ve taken several times in the past. Maybe I appear to be a local because it’s obvious that I know exactly where I am. I’m not lost or too curious because everything is totally like it was the last time I was on this route. I recognize everything.

In Florence I find my Siena-bound train, and a gypsy boy gets on and asks me for money for a few minutes. He even has photocopies of a piece of paper talking about how poor he is (the money toward those photocopies really could have gone towards some food if he were really that desperate!). I say no and ignore him. He finally leaves. The train speeds off before he can disembark. He screams and whistles until the train finally stops at the next station so he can leave.

As the train passes through Castellina in Chianti, I finally realize I’m in Tuscany. I can’t stop staring out the train’s dirty window, at the rolling green hills with lines of cypresses here and there, a farm with sheep, a few small vineyards… The train stops in Poggibonsi. I realize Siena is the next stop, and my heart begins to race. Siena! I’m almost there! A grin automatically forms across my face and I’m nearly jumping up and down in my seat.

At last I get off the train in Siena. It’s sunny and there is a cool breeze. The air is sweet. I go to the information desk and ask in my very best formal Italian, where I can take a taxi. The man points to a section of pavement outside with a sign that says ‘TAXI’. Oh. I knew that. There are other Americans waiting for taxis too. I’m tempted to talk to them but then I realize that I’m “from Florence” and I decide to keep holding that character. This lasts for about 5 minutes and I finally say hello to the Americans. They offer to share a cab with me to save money, but alas, they are going to a destination far from my apartment.

I get into my taxi and show the man my address. He explains (in Italian) which route he will have to take and I say it’s fine. The streets are very windy in Siena and not easy or straight forward if you are driving. He asks me where I’m from and I say Seattle. He is totally surprised because I have been chatting with him in Italian the whole time. During the ride, he points out where to get good gelato, what restaurants are the best, etc. At the very end he finally decides to try some English. “Thank you very much!” he says when I give him my money. He has a funny accent and I love it.

He drops me off at what seems more like several attached houses overlooking a valley. I press the button with the landlady’s name on it. Signora Pettorali comes out. She is olive-skinned, slender, and perhaps in her forties. She greets me with a warm and happy “CIAO!”. She immediately addresses me in the “tu” form, which is very informal. I am pleased because informal is easier for me. (Later in my trip I am to learn that I’m not to use “tu” so flippantly.) She shows me the apartment, and says (in Italian mind you) how excited she has been to meet me because my last name is Ferrari. She just has to know where my family originated and she couldn’t contain her excitement when I explained the story. She mentions that she thought I didn’t need school because she thinks I already speak Italian just fine. I blush. (Maybe I’m not that bad after all!)

My room is simple and spacious, with a bed, a wardrobe and a desk. I have a large window that opens to the most INCREDIBLE view of Siena. There is sort of a valley, and then up on a hill is the Duomo. It is breathtaking.

I meet my three roommates. There is a very good-looking Swiss man from Lausanne, named Bastian. There is a kind Swedish girl named Lina. And there is a lovely and sweet girl from Glasgow, Scotland, though she was born in Yugoslavia. Her name is Una. She and click quite well and almost immediately we make plans to wander into the center of town for dinner.

We dine outside at a restaurant in the Piazza del Campo, with a perfect view of the Torre del Mangia in all its imposing, magnificent Gothic glory. I have a swirly pasta with wild boar sauce, and a salad. With wine…. Coffee afterwards. As the sky darkens, the locals come out to walk around and see and be seen. Many people are sitting on the ground of the piazza. We wander all over the center and come upon a mini-market, which to our surprise is open. We collect a few things for the kitchen and she asks if I’ll teach her some good recipes this week. Sound great! As we make our way home, we continue to marvel at the narrow medieval streets. Neither of us can believe we are here.

We return home, chat with the other roommates who are a little more shy but very sweet, and then the two of us sit up late eating cookies and sipping chamomile tea until we’re both too sleepy.

The next morning (today, the 15th), I wake up to a bright morning. After some conversation with Bastian in the kitchen, I open the window to my room and stare at the magnificent view for some time. I am reveling in its awesomeness but have to quit when my room gets too cold.

Una and I make our way together to a bar for breakfast. We find the school and go our separate ways. She to her beginning class, and I to my placement test. The lady in the reception area says in Italian (much like my landlady) ‘oh, you already speak italian, what are you doing here?’ We laugh and she gives me my written exam. I have my oral test with a delightful lady who also goes over my written test. She is visible impressed (yes!!!) and decides to place me in one of the advanced levels. I am so pleased with myself and I am currently on a break, waiting for the class to begin. My classes will be in the mornings and I will be free from 12:15 on.

I’m already in love with this place. I am also misspelling a few words I’m sure because I’m not quite used to the keyboard here. I used to be when I lived on this continent, but now it’s all lost again. Now for some more coffee…

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